Festivals' Party Atmosphere Criticized Family Friendly Events Called For

Article excerpt

JACKSONVILLE BEACH -- Summer weekend festivals like the Springing the Blues Festival and annual Opening of the Beaches may do a lot to create a fun environment and bring visitors downtown, but at least one councilman says he thinks the partylike atmosphere has gone too far.

Mitch Kinsey says he wants the city to hold a workshop and find ways to make the programs more family friendly, as the city originally intended them to be.

In a letter sent to City Manager George Forbes Friday, Kinsey said he had received numerous complaints about alcohol violations at the Opening of the Beaches and the last two festivals.

At the April 30 opening parade, Kinsey said he saw people drinking alcohol in the streets, shouting profanities, spilling drinks on each other and spraying water hoses on one another.

"We need to attract families rather a bunch of people who want to party," Kinsey said. "I don't want Jacksonville Beach to be remembered like that. We need to look at it. We need to control it a lot more."

Maybe that means stricter enforcement of the law, he said, or scheduling fewer festivals and adding more controls on how and where alcohol is sold and consumed.

The city began the festivals 10 years ago to promote its new, improved downtown and attract business. Now there are eight festivals in the summer, and many people come back year after year, spending thousands of dollars on hotels and restaurants, festival proponents say.

"They became the heart and soul of redevelopment," said Sam Veal, the executive director of Jacksonville Beach Festivals, a non-profit group that organizes four city-sponsored festivals: Springing the Blues, the annual Opening of the Beaches, the Great Atlantic Seafood Festival and Fiesta Playera.

The festivals have become very popular. Opening of the Beaches drew 100,000 on parade day alone. About 65,000 people attended the Springing the Blues Festival on April 1 and 2, Veal said.

Police officers arrested 130 people on charges of public drinking, fighting or creating disturbances in the downtown area during this summer's eight festivals, according to the Jacksonville Beach Police Department.

The nine-block downtown area stretches from Third Street to the ocean and from Eighth Avenue North to First Avenue South. At most, only 30 or 40 percent of those arrests occurred in the festival area, Lt. …